EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 28, 2009

Zimmer says Series too tough to call

Bill Burt

Don Zimmer has an opinion about everything.

Daisuke Matsuzaka? "I hate watching him pitch," says the 78-year-old Zimmer, whose daughter and son-in-law live in Windham, N.H.

Evan Longoria? "I could watch him swing the bat all day long. He's special," says Zimmer.

On the importance of work ethic in baseball? "What you lack in talent can be made up with desire, hustle and giving 110 percent all the time," says Zimmer.

But ask him who is going to win the World Series starting and he goes silent.

"I don't know," says Zimmer. "I wouldn't know how to predict it."

Zimmer's ambivalence might be enough of a statement. Nobody in baseball has had a better seat watching these two franchises, the Yankees and Phillies, than Zimmer.

Zimmer was in the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse as a special assistant when the Rays lost to the Phillies, 4-1, in the World Series last fall. And he has seen the 2009 Yankees more times than he can count.

"The Yankees have been the best team in baseball since Day 1 this year," says the former Red Sox manager. "But I saw the Phillies last year. And I've seen them in the playoffs. I think they're the only team that can keep up with the Yankees offense, which is as good as I've seen."

The key to winning?

"You have to be tough to beat the Yankees and the Phillies are as tough as it gets," says Zimmer. "It's a tough town to play in, like New York and Boston. The fans are tough on their teams. But if you can succeed there, you can beat anybody. The Phillies won't back down from the Yankees, I'll tell you that much."

CC Sabathia will pitch for the Yankees and Cliff Lee for the Phillies tonight.

"I think you have to say the team that wins tonight has the edge," says Zimmer. "Again, it's easy to say the Yankees will win because of Sabathia. But I'll tell you. I've watched this Lee kid. He's as tough as Sabathia is. I see both guys pitching great games."

And what about Game 2, Andy Pettitte vs. Pedro Martinez?

"I've been in the Yankees dugout. I know how good Pettitte is," says Zimmer. "But don't count out the Phillies in this one. Pedro still has it. A lot of people were surprised when Pedro threw seven shutout innings (in his last game). I wasn't. The guy is amazing. He has a knack for outpitching most guys. I realize his fastball isn't what it was, but he still knows how to pitch. And that changeup he throws is still tough to hit."

Zimmer plans to watch every inning of every World Series game, as he does every year.

"I have a soft spot for the Yankees, because I still am close to a few guys over there, like Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera," says Zimmer, who had three stints coaching with the Yankees. "But the Phillies are for real. They won't be intimidated. They have a few guys, like (Chase) Utley, (Ryan) Howard, (Jayson) Werth and (Jimmy) Rollins who are as good as the Yankees are with A-Rod, Jeter, (Robinson) Cano and (Mark) Teixeira.

"The bottom line is if two guys get hot for the Yankees, they'll win," says Zimmer. "If two guys get hot for the Phillies, they'll win. I don't remember a World Series that was this good. The fans win here. The best two teams are playing."

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.